New Developments: Disney's PhotoPass

by Deb Wills, ALL EARS® Editor-in-Chief

Feature Article

This article appeared in the March 8, 2005, Issue #285 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

On her recent visit to WDW, Editor-in-Chief Deb Wills decided to try out Disney's new PhotoPass, which began December 2004. In preparation for the article, Allears.net surveyed readers as to their experiences with the new PhotoPass system. Results of the survey are also shared in the article.

Picture it -- it's 9 a.m. on a bright, sunny, spring day in Orlando. You step off the monorail, enter the turnstiles and head toward the castle. Suddenly, someone steps in front of you trying to get your family or group to gather with your backs to the castle so they can take your picture.

Prior to December, Disney photographers were easy to spot and eager to take your photo as you entered the theme park. In fact, their eagerness and zeal could be found quite annoying after a while. I know that some folks really did like this photo opportunity, but to me, there was something about this process that just wasn't "magical."

Once they took your photograph, you were given a paper card with a number on it. You were instructed to return to the Photo Center in a few hours for the viewing and purchase of your photo. At each location where you had a photo taken, you received yet another paper card. If you were like most people, and waited until the afternoon or, worse, closing time to get your mementos, you found yourself crowded into a small store with the anticipation of a long wait. But now, that's all changed... and for the better!

Now when you enter the park you can take a deep breath, look at the castle and then think (or not) about getting a picture taken. Unlike the eager-beaver photographers of pre-PhotoPass, I found I often had to seek out someone to take my picture, as did 40 percent of the readers we surveyed. So how do you find them? They aren't wearing signs or flashy clothes. In fact, their clothing is themed to the area in which they are stationed. For instance, in Animal Kingdom you might find them wearing a "photographer's" vest -- the sleeveless ones with all the pockets -- and maybe a straw hat. On Main Street in the Magic Kingdom, look for blue and white pinstripe shirts, with white pants and oversized beret-type hats.

After the first photography session of your trip (and they sometimes take more than one photo of you), you will be issued a plastic PhotoPass card with a magnetic strip and an ID number on the back. Hang onto that card and use it for the duration of your trip. Each time you see one of the roving photographers and want a photo taken, just go up and hand them your card -- they'll get you situated, snap the pose, scan your card and off you go -- and you can do this as often as you like. Don't worry if you end up with more than one card, as your online PhotoPass account will allow multiple cards to be entered!

A word of caution -- when you first receive your card, be sure to write down your ID number or take a clear digital photo of it. Our readers reported a number of potential pitfalls to the cards, including the number wearing off, the photographer not returning your card, or worse, somehow getting someone else's card!

If it's a crowded day, you may have others in the background of your picture, but as I also learned, other things can show up as well! Some fun poses can turn into magical photos. In the Magic Kingdom, the photographer had me, without explaining why, turn to the side and cup my hands. Then, in Epcot, the photographer had me put my hands in the air, and told me to look like I was lifting something really heavy! I laughed when I returned home and saw the results! Others have been asked by photographers in the Disney-MGM Studios to hold a hat ... and it's not a rabbit that pops out of it. Unfortunately, for some folks who "posed" for the special photos, there were no surprises when they got online and viewed the picture.

When you're ready to view your pictures, you can either go to the Photo Center at the park or wait until you can get online at your resort or back home. Readers report that it's still quite crowded at the Photo Centers. Also, at the theme park Photo Centers, only pictures taken at that theme park, not all your PhotoPass pictures, are available for viewing -- so if you're in Epcot and want to see your Magic Kingdom photos, for example, you have to wait until you get online. Another drawback to viewing your photos at the Photo Centers is that the theme parks will only keep your photos for three days -- not nearly enough time for most folks vacationing at WDW.

Viewing your photos online is easy -- just visit http:// www.disneyphotopass.com and set up your free account. Then simply enter your ID number and view your pictures. (Photos must be claimed within 30 days and then will stay online for 30 days after that.)

You can delete the ones you don't like, and you also can add borders and captions to the ones that you do. Available options depend on the park at which your photo was taken. For instance, with a Disney-MGM Studios photo, you can add an image of Director Mickey and his star performer Minnie, the MGM logo, and the year 2005. The one thing I didn't like about this option was that there was no way to alter it. If the image was too large or located in the wrong part of the photo, I couldn't move it or reduce its size. Be sure to click on all the border icons because they aren't always what you think.

One great advantage is that once you've gone through your photos and discarded the ones you don't like, you can easily share them with your family and friends. Just click on the "share" button and email the link!

Up until now, you haven't paid a nickel. If you want to purchase any of your photos, though, you have to pay -- and pay a lot! A 5x7 costs $12.95, an 8x10 $16.95, and if you want four wallets, $12.95. A 5x7 plus four wallets is $19.95. Once you order your photos online, they arrive quickly -- in less than a week to a Florida address. I ordered a couple of photos once I returned home, and they arrived in about seven days (and I'm not in Florida!). Even folks outside the U.S. who took the survey stated they received their pictures within two weeks; only 3 percent took longer. The only disappointment for me was that the wallet photos weren't cut individually, but arrived on one sheet.

The prices at the Magic Kingdom Photo Center are pretty much the same, but have a few different package options: two 5x7 photos are $22.90; two 5x7 and eight wallet photos are $29.90; two 5x7 and four wallet photos are $26.90; and one 8x10 is $16.95. However, at the Epcot Photo Center there was a special: Buy two 5x7 photos at $12.95 each and get a third 5x7 free. Also, in the last week of February, prices at Epcot were $12.95 for a 5x7 and $16.95 for an 8x10, with a second print for $12.95. A 5x7 plus four wallets were $16.95 with an additional print for $12.95. There are very few discounts available so far -- one discount was promoted with the most recent Annual Passholder newsletter (Mickey Monitor) and one with a recent Disney Visa mailing.

Lots of changes and enhancements to PhotoPass are planned for later this year. Photographers will be in more park locations, at Downtown Disney, and maybe even some of the resort hotels. You will also be able to create photo scrapbooks and DVDs, and you will be able to add your own photos to the account and use them in your scrapbook or DVD.

Overall, with the exception of the price, I really liked the new program. It was very convenient to avoid the Photo Centers, and to be able to view and order my photos online instead. It seems that many of our readers agree -- more than 75 percent of you rated the experience Very Good or Excellent and 92 percent recommended it for fellow travelers. However it's important to note that there are still bugs to work out. For example, I had photos of people I didn't know in my photo account, as did 16 percent of our surveyed readers. While I don't think I had any photos missing, 20 percent of those surveyed did. These and other issues are just a few of the things telling me that I should, at least for now, also take a photo with my own camera to ensure that any precious moments are recorded.

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Thank you to all our readers who responded to the PhotoPass survey! Your answers were very enlightening.

What you liked:

-- The best part of PhotoPass was avoiding the long lines we previously stood in to pick up our pictures. Because of this, we probably had more photos taken.

-- The greatest part is that I went back two weeks later and was able to use the same card. No more little slips of paper that inevitably got lost or mangled in the bottom of my purse.

-- It was very handy to not have to dig out the camera. I could enjoy the "moment" along with the kids.

-- I loved the fact that I did not have to wait around to see the photos taken by Cast Members. I waited until I arrived home and viewed and ordered.

-- I absolutely love this. We've missed many photos over the years due to time constraints. Sometimes you just don't have the time or energy to wait in those lines at the end of the day. This way you can still get your photos, and enjoy your day in the park.

-- The shipping for my order was only $1.99. I really expected it to be higher -- I was very pleased.

What you didn't like:

-- Several photos were missing when we viewed them online.

-- I was never able to pull up my photos on the website. I tried for over a week and it never worked.

-- These are expensive pictures, and several of the photographers cut off the tallest person's head -- including Ariel's in her grotto!

-- The website was very nice. The only complaint I have is that the pictures do not come with the cute little frames.

-- One set of pictures we had taken at the Magic Kingdom were never found. Very disappointing, as these were great pictures of our family, fresh from the barbershop, with fully decorated hair and all.

-- I wish the photos were priced more reasonably.

-- Yes, the quality of the photographers varies from excellent to very poor. Some of the photographers take excellent shots and some of them are worse than amateurs. The photographers need to be better trained.

-- The only problem was that there were not many PhotoPass people.

Tips:

-- Be careful -- some of the pictures were lost! This was particularly upsetting for friends who brought their son on his first Disney trip. I highly recommend taking your own back-up photos until they work out the issues!

-- You should keep your PhotoPass; it can be used on your next visit. Just make sure you keep the ID number from the back of the card at home somewhere so you have it if it rubs off the back of the card from too much use!

-- We found out that if the photographer does not get a green light when they swipe your card, the photos will not download to the card. We had this happen, and fortunately they had another photographer take the pictures again so we would have them.

-- I had my grandchildren without their parents, so we phoned the number home and their parents looked up the photos. They enjoyed them very much!

-- Lots of the pictures are blurry so have them take a few.

-- There is a link that lets you report the missing pictures. After 3-4 days, we received an email that said they found our pictures. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Other readers reported not being so lucky.)

-- Have your picture taken several times and at different times of the day or evening. The light changes make a difference.

-- Cast Members at the park Photo Centers can make modifications to the picture (crop, move a little) and can also put more than one overlay on the pictures (i.e. Magic Kingdom logo and signature on the character pictures). These are things that can't be done on the PhotoPass website.

-- I have a Disney Visa, and in the Spring 2005 Disney Rewards Guide I received in the mail, it showed me how to save 20 percent off my order. I used it with no problems! I saved over $10.

Many of you offered suggestions for system enhancements:

-- Offer PhotoPass for the attraction photos.

-- Have photographers available at the Character Meals and Meet and Greets.

-- Offer PhotoPass on the cruise ships.

-- I wish that there were more sizes to choose from.

-- I would also like to see where the photographers are on the maps of all the theme parks. We have been to Epcot seven times and we still have not been able to locate a photographer.

-- I think they should offer the pictures in 4x6 size. Not everyone wants or needs 5x7 photos of all their pictures. Also, 4x6 photos fit in most photo albums, which I think would get more people to buy them.

-- There should be the ability to modify (crop, enlarge, etc.) the photos on the website.

-- I'd like to be able to use them as screen savers.

-- Shipping was fast, but it would be nice to have a tracking feature.


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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.